Vibrant, colorful, new. It’s hard to escape these three terms when reading or thinking about Mexico City.
The city of nearly 9 million residents is exploding with restaurants, boutiques, hotels, museums, and galleries. Its diversity and excitement can make most other major cities seem drab.
But for as big and overwhelming as the largest city in North America (and fifth largest city in the world) can seem, it still breaks down into a series of charming, inviting neighborhoods—each with a bustling design and creative community that’s perfect for exploring by foot.
While massive in sheer size, the character of this metropolis’ barrios makes it feel cozy and small, like you might run into an old friend around any corner.
As the designers and artists on the ground there told us, they often do. And all are welcome. Young, old, born and raised, or brand-new.
Graphic designers, tattoo artists, agave producers, industrial designers—we explored quiet moments with longtime locals and recent transplants at every turn.
With help from Trips Luggage, we took to the streets recently to explore four of Mexico City’s most interesting neighborhoods. Here’s what we saw.
Home to Creative and Colorful Characters
Juarez is colorful and diverse, with everything from 19th-century mansions to Korean eateries to LGBTQ nightclubs.
It’s where Delana Lensgraf, a recent Mexico City transplant, makes her home. The co-owner of a sustainable, ancestral-grade mezcal called Musa Agaves, Delana has been in what she calls her jungle oasis in Juarez for more than a year.
She moved to Mexico City from Denver more than three years ago. “This is home for me now,” she says. “Once I found Mexico City, I uprooted my life and moved here without a second thought.”
In addition to the mezcal brand, she runs a nonprofit that supports agave conservation and ancestral production techniques. She says she loves living in a small neighborhood tucked between two of Mexico City’s largest streets.
“There’s a rich community of artists in Juarez, and you can see it clearly in how people express themselves in fashion and jewelry. There are tattoo artists, musicians, brand creators, graphic designers, writers, and more all living and creating in this area. To me it seems that the stories of all these interesting characters weave in and out; there is quite a bit of local gossip in Juarez, which I find funny.”
Exploring a Neighborhood of Friends
The people who live and work in verdant Coyoacán say it’s not like other places. The community vibe is strong and there’s a relaxed feel when you go for a walk or bike ride.
Luciana Gallegos and Carmen Capdevila, founding members of graphic design studio Laguna, have been living and working in Coyoacán for six years.
Most recently they’ve been working near the neighborhood’s historic center—in a big, old house they share with a yoga studio and industrial design firm.
“Coyoacán is a neighborhood with many faces, and one of its biggest assets is the high quality of life it offers,” Luciana says. “There are commercial and residential areas that coexist in a balanced way. The neighborhood is very antique, with big colonial houses and little streets, so it doesn’t have that big noisy city vibe. We know most of our neighbors by name.”
At the same time, you get to experience historic sites as well as modern venues, from Leon Trotsky’s house to a Buddhist center to billiards. “Different generations of artists live here now,” Carmen says. “The vibe of the neighborhood is artsy and intellectual but down to earth. There is a large community of new artisans who have found a place to share their work.”
Meet The Who’s Who of Mexico City Artists
The namesake of the Academy Award–winning 2018 film, Roma is widely considered the “hipster” ’hood of Mexico City, with an art and culinary scene that rivals Brooklyn.
It’s also where esteemed and up-and-coming designers alike make some of their best work. Industrial Designer Hector Esrawe opened a new workspace there in May 2019, after a 10-month renovation to a former dance hall.
“I was born and raised in downtown Mexico City. I’ve always loved living in vibrant zones that reflect the real expression of the city, where you can walk to a market, a tailor, a dry cleaner, bar, or coffee shop,” he says. “It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Besides the architecture and amazing character of the buildings, it still keeps the essence of a traditional barrio.”
Hector walks to work—he lives in neighboring Condesa—and says the design community in Roma is tight-knit. “Since we constantly collaborate with different studios we literally walk from one office to the other, and we hang out as friends.”
You can find some of Hector’s most recent work—ethereal ribbons of metal sheeting in exaggerated lighting—at the new Mexico City gallery he cofounded in 2019, called MASA.
Inside the Charming Theater District
Endearingly known as the “Broadway of Mexico,” San Rafael is home to at least 10 active mid-century theaters. The burgeoning art scene attracts creatives of all backgrounds, and it’s part of why artists like Arturo Ramírez set up shop there.
Arturo opened Stinky Art Tattoo in January 2018 and has been living in the neighborhood for three years. He was drawn to the neighborhood in part for its architecture—it was once home to some of Mexico City’s wealthiest in the late 1800s, and many of those old mansions still stand today.
But it’s perhaps the neighborhood’s diversity—in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and age—that makes it stand out.
“The arts community in San Rafael is coming to life with galleries, art restorers, photographers, and even architects,” Arturo says.
His own work at the tattoo parlor is influenced by acrylic, watercolor, and oil painting, as he incorporates femininity and animals into his work.
“It’s all about creating something personal and being able to express spiritual and emotional needs in an artistic context.” Even with the boon of creatives moving in, Arturo says the neighborhood has not lost its authentic feel and eclectic mix of young and old.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Sixtysix with the headline “On The Road: in Mexico City.” Subscribe today.
Produced by Studio Sixtysix
Words by Chris Force & Laura Rote
Photos by Chris Force
Studio Sixtysix is the in-house creative agency to Sixtysix magazine. Studio Sixtysix stories are conceived, produced, and edited by Studio Sixtysix.